Kentucky football: Why adding Joey Gatewood is so critical for 2020 and beyond
Kentucky’s struggle to find (and keep) a quarterback took a surprising turn with the commitment of Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood to head to Lexington. During Kentucky’s 4-year bowl streak, Kentucky has gone from Drew Barker, who suffered a season and essentially career-ending injury, to JUCO Stephen Johnson to JUCO Terry Wilson to grad transfer Sawyer Smith to wide receiver Lynn Bowden at quarterback.
Add in the loss of one-time commitments Mac Jones (to Alabama) and Jarren Williams (to Miami), and with the exception of Johnson’s senior season in 2017, Kentucky has been scrambling at the QB position for most of the past 4 years.
Enter Gatewood — though the Cats likely will have to wait a season on him, too.
Kentucky spent most of 2019 with wide receiver Lynn Bowden playing quarterback, which has been unforgettable but also has resulted in a run-heavy offense that mirrors service academy football. Wilson and Smith will both be seniors next season, and the hope is that the offseason will heal Wilson’s injured leg and Smith’s bevy of serious injuries. This probably works well from a timing standpoint, as the expectation is that Gatewood, who redshirted in 2018 at Auburn, will likely be ineligible to play in 2020 as a transfer, unless he finds some kind of waiver. He will have 2 years of eligibility remaining.
Kentucky will also sign home-state QB Beau Allen in the 2020 recruiting class, which actually balances rather neatly with the likely timeline. Wilson and Smith should be available in 2020, with Allen possibly seeing a few mop-up snaps given the changes in the redshirt rule. Gatewood then would be the presumptive starter in 2021 and 2022, with Allen ready to take over in 2023 as a redshirt junior.
That said, if Gatewood gains eligibility for 2020 (a possibility that Kentucky likely is pursuing), things could get interesting in a hurry. Gatewood is Kentucky’s highest-rated QB addition since Tim Couch. He was ranked as the 49th-best recruit in the nation by 247sports as a 2018 recruit. Gatewood picked Auburn and seemed poised to follow in the footsteps of Cam Newtown as a massive (6-5, 233 pounds) but athletic quarterback who could run or throw his way through defenses.
For his part, Gatewood did little to dissuade those who were impressed with his ability during his redshirt season at Auburn. He entered the spring of 2019 competing for the starting job with Bo Nix, and as the first-team QB went 7-for-10 for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns in Auburn’s A-Day spring game. Sometime late in fall camp, Malzahn went to Nix and shortly thereafter, Gatewood began the transfer journey that, aided by taking in a pair of games in Lexington, lured him to UK.
Beyond what Gatewood will mean on the field — and he’s being described as a perfect fit for Eddie Gran’s RPO-based offensive scheme — his brief and successful recruitment might be more telling in terms of what it means for Kentucky football off the field.
Given UK’s recruitment of Gatewood and LSU defensive back Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky has positioned itself as a landing spot for some of the SEC’s top second-chance athletes. Given the proliferation of the transfer portal and graduate transfers, Stoops and UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow have probably found a back avenue to the nation’s top sources of football talent. If Gatewood is running up and down the field in blue and white in 2020 or 2021, that can only help the future of that pipeline.